BLINDED BY THE LIGHT: God and I have come to an understanding of sorts. He understands I’m more than a little dubious about his very existence. Likewise, he’s kind of skeptical about mine. Pending resolution of all this aforementioned uncertainty, we’ve agreed not to take each other’s name in vain. By that, I decidedly don’t mean simple profanity. It’s more a matter of common courtesy and basic respect. Should I do something great — like score a touchdown in the Super Bowl past — I leave him out of it. Likewise, when I screw up, I don’t defend my actions by asserting blind obedience to His Way, mysterious and unknowable as it inscrutably is. Maybe True Believers should extend the same consideration.
Bringing this to mind are recent developments on the gay rights front. Much to the shock and chagrin of many organized religions, it’s obvious that gay and lesbian people will soon enjoy the same legal rights to marriage as their heterosexual counterparts. (Likewise, it appears equally imminent they will soon be allowed to openly serve in the armed forces, putting life and limb at risk for their country.) Once this happens, everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the institution of marriage was never really all that central to Western civilization in the first place. Or maybe there’s so little of Western civilization left to save that no one cares. Or maybe we’ve just come up with new and improved reasons for hating. Regardless, it appears people are moving on. And not just the Prius-driving Unitarian set. Evidence of this was on rare display Monday morning as a trio of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard arguments for and against Proposition 8, the 2008 statewide initiative that amended California’s state constitution to ban gay marriage.
Leading with the full-frontal legal charge that gay marriage is an inalienable constitutional right was attorney Ted Olson, whose credentials as a hardcore conservative are beyond reproach. It was Olson, after all, who persuaded a 5-to-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court that George W. Bush stole the 2000 election from Al Gore fair and square, and that it was perfectly legal for Republicans to squash the Florida recount that would have reversed the results. For those tuning in late, on Election Night 2000, Bush appeared to have won Florida Election Night 2000 by just 1,700 votes. And that, in turn, allowed him to just barely squeak into the White House with 271 electoral as opposed to Gore’s 266. But by early December — after a partial re-count spurred on by massive voter irregularities — Bush’s margin of victory in Florida had shrunk to just 327 votes. At that time, several of Florida’s most populous counties — all, coincidentally, Democratic strongholds — had not been double-checked. That’s when Republican election officials infamously declared the re-count over. It was Olson, however, who sealed the deal by persuading the Supremes to sanctify the theft. It’s unbecoming, I know, to whine over spilled milk, and bygones are bygones. But in this instance, the consequences have been fairly monumental, not to mention long-lasting — the Iraq War, tax cuts for the rich, a staggering budget deficit, to name just a few.
Supporters of traditional marriage, I know, were wigged out that Stephen Reinhardt was one of the judges assigned to the case. Reinhardt, after all, is one of the most liberal judges on the bench. Given that his wife also happens to be the head of the California ACLU, the Defense of Marriage crowd wanted Reinhardt tossed. I can see their point. But Reinhardt was the least of their problems. It’s likely Reinhardt will eventually rule in favor of gay marriage — and against Prop. 8. But based on the questions he asked, it’s likely his opinion will be couched in the most narrow, technical, and legalistic terms possible. As is often the case, it was the most conservative judge on the panel who would ask the most pointed questions about marriage being the exclusive domain of a man and woman. It would be Judge N. Randy Smith — a card-carrying Mormon — who would ask the $64-million question: “How does Proposition 8 protect marriage?” It was Smith who pointed out that the State of California recognized the legal rights of gay couples in a thousand-and-one ways already. How was it rationally defensible, he wondered, to extend all those legal rights but withhold the label of marriage?
Smith’s personal faith is intriguing, given that the Church of the Latter-Day Saints declared a jihad against gay marriage in 2008 immediately after the California Supreme Court saw fit to rule in its favor. The Mormon flock was urged to donate generously to the cause, and about half of the $40 million raised to pass Prop. 8 came from Mormon donors. But it was more than that. Like it or not, Mormons, like lesbians, are notorious for getting a lot done in a day. (While we are engaging in crass but accurate stereotypes, it’s worth noting that if the lesbians had been in charge of the campaign against Prop. 8 instead of gay men, the thing would have gone down in flames.) What the Mormons lack in humor — just name one Mormon stand-up comedian — they’ve compensated for with incredible managerial efficiency. (The Catholics and Jews, however, noted for their rich tradition of stand-up comedy, could never have passed Prop. 8 on their own.) The Mormons tamed the desert. They move mountains. And back in the 1970s, when germ-a-phobic gazillionaire Howard Hughes bought Las Vegas from the Mafia, he surrounded himself exclusively with Mormons to run the place. They didn’t steal; they didn’t drink; and they saw to it that “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” How that squares with the Mormons’ book of Moroni and golden plates, God only knows. And his wonders, as we’ve all been told, “are mysterious to behold.” It’s probably better not to ask. Like I say, we have an understanding.